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Britain's Policies on Fissile Materials: The Next Steps

             Plutonium and highly-enriched uranium (HEU) are the essential 'fissile materials' used in nuclear weapons. Since 1945, about 3,000 tonnes of these materials have been produced world-wide, of which some 2,000 tonnes (1,760 tonnes of HEU and 230 tonnes of plutonium) have been produced for military purposes and 1,000 tonnes (almost entirely plutonium) have arisen within the civilian fuel-cycle. The regulation of fissile materials now occupies a central place in nuclear arms control and non-proliferation policy. Furthermore, any act of nuclear disarmament, as events in Iraq and South Africa have recently shown, must entail the meticulous recording and verification of all fissile materials acquired by the country in question. To be plausible, a project of global disarmament would therefore hinge upon the ability and willingness of all nation states to reveal their material inventories, submit them and associated production facilities to rigorous international verification, and dispose of residual stocks. .
             As the summary table shows, Britain holds substantial inventories of fissile materials, particularly as a consequence of its long involvement in civil reprocessing. Its policies will affect significantly, and be effected by, the outcomes of current international debates on fissile material production, regulation and disposition. .
             Summary Table: Britain's Stocks of plutonium and HEU .
             Central estimates in tonnes, December 1996 .
             Military inventories .
             Weapon-grade uranium 7.8 .
             Weapon-grade plutonium 3.1 .
             Reactor-grade plutonium 8.7 .
             Military inventories .
             Separated plutonium in store 50 .
             Plutonium in spent fuel stores 50 .
             Three main issues need to be addressed by the Labour Government: .
             The future status and regulation of military plutonium and HEU inventories in the UK, how those inventories can be better characterised, how they would be effected by the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, and whether the government should encourage the negotiation of that Treaty.

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